Arthur J Pais
If there is one reason to see Birthday Girl, it is Nicole Kidman. But her performance as a sexy and mysterious Russian isn't, in itself, sufficient to power this film at the box office.
Kidman's last film, The Others, a multilayered supernatural thriller, collected some $200 million worldwide. And Moulin Rouge, her first solo hit, collected close to $200 million.
Birthday Girl, however, is not likely to make it a hat-trick.
Kidman plays Nadia, a prospective bride contacted by nerdy British clerk John (Ben Chaplin) through the matrimonial website 'From Russia with Love'.
Follows the rude awakening, as John realises Nadia knows little English and, worse, smokes like a chimney. He wants her to go with him to Russia. She, on discovering his cache of bondage videos and magazines, has reason for a rethink. The complex situation gets even more complicated when two Russians land up on Nadia's birthday, and begin to put pressure on the couple to help them rob the bank John works for.
The rest of the story is predictable. The sex scenes are not steamy enough to give the film legs at the box office, nor is the suspense strong enough to create a favourable buzz.
Kidman's multi-layered performance, especially in the second half, help give it some credibility. Chaplin too has his moments -- notably in the first half, when he is trying to resolve the question of what to do about Nadia. But the actor has been seen to better effect in other outings, such as The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
Director Jez Butterworth probably set out to make a dark thriller -- but he fails in the attempt. The last 20 minutes, during which the film turns into a violent caper, disappoints.
It all reminds you of the other mail-order bride film of a few months back. Original Sin, starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, promised suspense and sex -- but delivered neither. The film collected a mere $20 million in North America, making it one of several duds coming out of producer Ashok Amritraj's stable last year.
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Mathieu Kassovitz, Vincent Cassel